Monday, August 30, 2010

African Village Cafe and Restaurant

When my friend Yvette suggested dinner out an African restaurant, how could I say no? She and her family spent three months at the beginning of this year in Ethiopia and have been looking for Ethiopian ingredients and restaurants since. When they returned, they gave me an Ethiopian cookbook from which I have been wanting to make so much but some of the ingredients are hard to come by here in Sydney, if not impossible. If anyone knows where to get tef, true berbere or mekelesha, another spice blend, please let me know!

So Yvette's family and the girls and I all headed out to Bankstown to 

African Village Cafe and Restaurant
359 Chapel Rd
Bankstown NSW 2200
Ph: 9790 2696

What we found was an Ethiopian restaurant, decorated with, I am told, authentic Ethiopian pictures and artefacts. The owner explained that, yes, it is an Ethiopian restaurant but she thought that African in the name would be more appealling to people and she also offers some other African dishes. She and some other customers were all very interested that Yvette and her family had spent time in Ethiopia and had learnt some Amharic, the language spoken there.

Since I didn't know any of the dishes and the others were obviously craving certain ones, I let them decide which dishes from the menu we would choose to have in the combination platter served with injera, the traditional Ethiopian bread.

While deciding, we all had some other delicious Ethiopian bread which was quite sweet with a brioche texture

But we were not to get a choice of which dishes to have! The injera and the 5 dishes were brought out - must have been what the owner either thought they would want or that was what she was cooking that day, so that was what we were getting!

Combination Platter
We were served a split pea stew, a very spicy lamb stew, spinach, mixed vegetables and a mince dish (this was the mildest and the most popular with the children). 

Injera

The injera was made with tef, which the owner brings in herself, and another flour, we think was millet. I was told that yes, it was the authentic colour and taste and I must say it was delicious. We need tef to be available for humans in Australia, not just stock feed!


My plate of food
I found the dishes to all be really tasty, some a little spicy (great for the sinuses and my ears did unblock!) and although when it first came out, I wasn't sure whether it would be enough food for 7 people, it was surprisingly filling and we didn't even get through it all! The girls were very good trying all the dishes, Amy finished all of hers but Sophie found some a bit too spicy for her liking. The injera was the highlight as was eating with their hands and using the bread to scoop rather than cutlery!!

Ethiopian Coffee
After the meal, Yvette's husband and I had the Ethiopian coffee. This is freshly roasted and served in a special pot. It did have a slightly burnt smell when she brought the beans out but I really enjoyed the flavour. Apparently they do the Ethiopian coffee ceremony on a Sunday.

The service was certainly relaxed and definitely not rushed. It was a little difficult to find the owner to pay the bill but she was in the kitchen getting some takeaway sorted for some customers. No, they didn't get to choose either! We found this not getting to choose despite getting a menu to be very amusing.

Dessert is apparently not something that is usual in Ethiopia so we didn't have any but the lady did say that if she'd known there would be 4 children, she would have prepared something sweet - might let her know next time. And yes, there will definitely be a next time! I'm hooked!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Hardeeps Indian Restaurant

The girls and I decided to treat ourselves to dinner out tonight so we went to the little Indian restaurant, Hardeeps, in Hornsby near the station. I hadn't been there in years, especially since Annapoorna opened, but since we won't be going back to Annapoorna after the last time we went (didn't get around to writing that review) I thought we might as well try Hardeeps again.

It's a quaint little place with Indian art on the walls, a mirror covering one wall (which unfortunately I was facing and kept seeing myself!), a funny in ground curry smell and it appears to be run by a husband and wife team. They are certainly not the same people as before.

We were given a basket of complimentary puppadums but no sauce to go with them so we ordered some mango chutney for them. Of course we had nearly finished them without the chutney before it arrived so I had to order more! Cunning tactics. The puppadums were very average tasting but at least they were crunchy!

For entree we had 2 serves of vegetable samosas as they come as a serving of 2. The presentation was lovely on a hot plate with lemon, orange and shredded cabbage. It was served with a mint yoghurt sauce. Verdict: nice pastry but the filling was grey and nondescript.

For main we had Apple Shahi Korma, a "mildly spiced beef curry in a rich apple sauce". wchich sounded a little bit different to the normal offering of curry sauces. I don't normally order beef at an Indian restaurant so this was going to be a first. It had 1 star on the menu indicating mild so thought it would be a good choice for 2 tired girls and a tired mummy! Verdict: nice but not as exciting as I'd been expecting. The sauce was lovely, couldn't taste any apple but it had a nice sweetness about it and the beef was lovely and tender. It also did have a bit more of a spicy kick to what we were expecting. but it didn't wow me as being different. We ordered rice and a garlic naan to accompany. They used to include the rice with any curry ordered. You can even see where they have gone over the menu in texta to cross this offer out. The naan was lovely and buttery as was the rice.

Service was okay, they started to get more tables in as we were finishing and there were quite a few takeaways rung through and collected. The sound of a microwave was a little offputting!

So will we return? Not sure. The girls were happy enough but I think I still need to find something a bit more special.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Organic and Green Expo

Wow!

Amazing!

We are so glad we went and it's hard to know where to start writing about it.

We arrived quite early, about 10.30 so it was not too busy but too early to start the wine and beer tastings (even for me!) and of course they were the first things we came across.

Very briefly, we 
  • bought some dairy free organic fairtrade dark chocolate
  • patted animals
  • checked out raised garden bed edging made from recycled plastic
  • learnt about how to use and bought some soapnuts
  • ate a delicious pie made from organic beef - this was the food you could actually buy inside from the convention centre catering!
  • watched a Vita Mix demonstration
  • checked out MiEssence products
  • tried some very nice New Zealand yoghurt
  • got some free samples of some mueslis
  • got free samples of an organic instant coffee
  • tried to find the spelt bars we used to buy and they may come back to the country next year
  • bought some pasta and quinoa
  • got a free espresso
  • sampled ice blocks
  • were reminded that there is a supplier of frozen organic berries and vegies just up the road
  • looked at bamboo clothing
  • had the girls allergy tested (fascinating!)
  • drooled over the possibility of drinking organic champagne and cognac (yes, champagne from France, not just a sparkling wine)
Of course having the girls there slowed things down a bit and they ended up getting a bit bored and over it.

Next year, we are going to make a weekend of it, take a trolley and maybe have the girls baby sat for some of the time. I think it was really important for them to go and see and understand more about organics (no it's not just Mummy raving), animals, chemicals and sustainable living ideas and there were activities set up for the kids but it is a long day to get to see everything.

It was wonderful to see how many people attended and the interest in organics and sustainable  lifestyles.

One thing that did disappoint was the lack of "fresh food" information and displays and how it was predominantly processed and packaged foods that were on display and being sold. Just because it's organic doesn't mean it's nutritious! It would have been fantastic to see some of the small, local producers there, although the stall costs (and they would have been working) probably prevented a lot of them from going.

There was so much more to see and do that we missed out on (including the beer and wine tastings!) that we're really looking forward to next year's.

Organic and Green Expo Organic Beef Pie

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Healthy Living Workshop

Hornsby Council Waste Management team are presenting 2 Healthy Living Workshops; one on Non-Toxic Living and the other one about Food Labels (on Wednesday, 25th August).

I managed to get to the one on Non-Toxic living on Tuesday, 17th August and I am so pleased I did as it was certainly very interesting.

Dr Sarah Lantz (PhD) is the author of Chemical Free Kids - Raising Healthy Children in a Toxic World and a mother of 2 children. She is certainly very passionate and knowledgeable about her research area. I am certainly looking forward to reading her book in detail.

The talk was about our "body burden" or our internal pollution, how children are more vulnerable to toxins and why babies are being born "pre-polluted".

Some interesting facts:
  • Newborn babies in Australia still have detectable levels of the pesticide DDT in their blood, even 30+ years after it was banned in Australia.
  • Other traceable chemicals include pthalates, found in personal care products, and teflon, from non-stick cookware.
  • 40 million prescribed pills are taken in Australia each day.
  • 50 000 children are on prescription medications in Australia
  • Over half the chemicals produced for human consumption have never been tested for toxicity to the human body.
  • Even human breastmilk contains traceable levels of DDT, other pesticides, herbicides, fire retardants and other chemicals.
  • 1500 new synthetic chemicals are being created each year.
What does it mean for us?

The human body is amazing and can eliminate some chemicals but there are so many that get stored, damage our cells and DNA and accumulate.

But let's not get too paranoid! We can't live in a bubble and have no exposure - it's just not possible. But as individuals, we can choose to avoid the nasties, not buy the products containing totally unpronounceable ingredients and food containing more numbers than a maths textbook. We can choose not to buy personal products containing questionable and  dangerous chemicals that will be absorbed through our skin. We can choose to buy fruits and vegetables that have not been sprayed with pesticides, many of which have been banned overseas but are still allowed here in Australia. Choose certified organic wherever possible.

It is about choice, and the more people who choose the non-toxic way of life, maybe the governments and manufacturers will listen (we can always be hopeful!) and the better off our health, environment and lives will be.

    Wednesday, August 18, 2010

    Fortune Cookies


    Multicultural Day at school has come around again. Last year, Amy went as a French girl, dressed up in a red skirt, stripey shirt, scarf and beret with a plate of Madeleine cakes. This year, Greg bought the 2 girls Chinese jackets in Hong Kong (couldn't find anything in Shenzhen, China!). For her plate of food, we decided on Fortune Cookies. No, they are not really Chinese, and like the clothes, won't be found in China, but they are fun and are really multicultural themselves! Of course, these would have to be homemade particularly given the teacher organising it had the nerve to go around to the classes and tell the children that it would not be acceptable for their parents to go and buy a packet of something and that it would have to be homemade! While I don't really mind and have the time and interest (not always patience!) to experiment, many parents don't. And, of course, no peanuts, peanut oil or nuts are allowed. That wipes out so many possibilities! Even the fortune cookies often have almond extract included in the recipe.

    So after searching the internet for recipes, reading them and reviews, I came up with my own version that works well, isn't too sweet and do go crispy although they do soften a bit overnight.

    But the cookie is only half the job! There needs to be a "fortune" quote inside! What is suitable for 5 and 6 year olds?? We came up with a couple but does anyone have any suggestions for future reference?

    Tips:
    • Make sure the batter isn't too thick but also not too thin as it will overcook too quickly and not be able to be folded.
    • Don't try and cook too many at a time - start with 2 at a time - until you get the hang of the folding.
    • The folding needs to be done while they are hot or else they will crack.
    • Some people suggest using cotton gloves to fold them due to the heat. Yes, wish I'd had some!
    • Work with 2 baking trays so that one has the chance to cool down before placing batter circles on.
    • Use a cupcake / muffin tray to put the folded cookies in until they can hold their shape.
    • Putting cookies back in the oven helps to crisp them if needed.
    • Write fortunes on a piece of paper 8cm x 1cm and then fold in half to place in centre of cookie.
    • Cookies are best eaten on the day of making.

    Fortune Cookies

    Makes 20

    Ingredients

    2 egg whites
    1/4 tspn vanilla extract
    45mL rice bran oil
    80g plain flour
    80g caster sugar
    pinch salt
    60mL water

    Method

    Preheat oven to 150ºC.

    Beat egg whites, vanilla and oil until frothy.








    Sift flour, sugar and salt together.
    Add to egg mix with the water.
    Mix to form a smooth batter.

    On a sheet of baking paper, for each fortune cookie, spoon a heaped teaspoon of batter and smooth out to about a 10cm circle.










    Place paper on a cool tray and cook in oven for approx. 9 - 10 minutes until the edges are golden.








    Working quickly, turn cookie over so the side that was against the pan will now be inside the cookie. 

    Place fortune in the middle, fold cookie in half and then over the edge of a glass or cup with the seam on top.










    Place in a cupcake tray until cookie is slightly cooled and can hold its shape.








    After cooking all the cookies, place folded cookies still in the cupcake tray back into the oven for 5-10 minutes to help with the crisping if needed.
    Allow to cool on a wire rack so they don't go soft.

    I hope the class enjoy them.



    Thursday, August 12, 2010

    Snack Balls

    Snack Balls   ©Belinda Fox

    My inspiration for these snack balls has come from my horror at the list of ingredients in commercial muesli bars and the like. I was looking to make something with all natural ingredients for the girls to take to school / pre-school as well as something to have as a satisfying snack at home for all of us. The ball shape came about simply because they are quicker and easier to make with the texture of the mix.

    So, the prerequisites had to be nut-free for school, egg-free for me and dairy-free for Sophie. We love our nuts here so I have also come up with a nut-inclusive version. They are also gluten free.

    The texture of the dry ingredients is personal preference; you can make it as fine or as chunky as you wish. If it is chunkier, I find it a bit harder to roll.


    You could add any dried fruit you like or have on hand, just make it up to 200g. The balance of "butter" / honey can also be adjusted to taste, just make it up to 200g. I have also found that adding the dry to the wet ingredients makes it easier to fully combine.


    School Balls
    Makes: 24


    Ingredients:

    100g dried, pitted dates
    100g sultanas
    30g puffed millet
    20g shredded coconut
    20g puffed amaranth
    70 g honey
    130g chunky sunflower butter


    Method:

    • Process dried fruit, millet, amaranth and coconut for desired texture.
    • Gently heat honey and sunflower butter until runny.
    • Add dry ingredients to honey and butter mixture and stir until well combined.
    • Roll into balls.

    Store in airtight container in the refrigerator.

    My "Nut Balls" substitute chunky peanut butter for the sunflower butter and include 50g almond meal.

    In either version, the "butter" can also be substituted for unhulled tahini.




    Thursday, August 5, 2010

    Banana and Date Bread - cupcake size!

    Following the same recipe as for the Loaf shape Banana and Date bread, I have made some cupcake size ones for the girls to take for morning tea at school and pre-school. Together with a little apple, they make a great mid-morning (dare I say it, healthy!) snack. The only difference I made to the recipe was to use wholemeal flour and oat milk. I can't really tell any difference between the plain white and wholemeal versions. Cooking time was 10 minutes and it made 30 cupcakes, most of which are now stored in freezer ready to be put into lunchboxes.


    Banana and Date Cupcakes

    Monday, August 2, 2010

    Thermomix

    Following on from the entry on "Time" and the comments about the Thermomix, I thought I'd write down my thoughts on this very expensive appliance, mostly to work out whether I would really buy one.

    The Thermomix, to me, is a big, German, industrial strength food processor that can also cook. Being German engineering, it is very precise and accurate and things are done very efficiently.

    So what does it do? It mills, grinds, kneads, chops, mixes, cooks, steams, mashes, blends... anything else? There are so many people who think it is just fabulous, can't live without it and they even used it on MasterChef!

    I went to a demonstration at a friend's house, she now has one and blogs about her uses for it and it really does sound useful but how different is it really to just getting a great food processor and a bamboo steam basket? It doesn't bake or grill like I love to do. It can make a pasta dish all in the one pot, icing sugar, sorbet, flour and is easy to clean.
     
    But I still don't understand how it saves that much time compared to any other food processor, blender or other appliance. I guess, I don't even use a microwave except for puppadums and occasionally reheating something. I love standing at the stove, watching things simmering, tasting, tweaking... 

    Still to be convinced, I think.